Flavors: Baking with Love at Veronika's Pastry Shop

Feb 16, 2020

Veronika Baukema of Veronika's Pastry Shop puts a tray of Kouign Amann into the proofer.
Credit Stella Fong

When stepping from Montana Avenue into Veronika’s Pastry Shop, an embrace of buttery and caramel goodness welcomes you. Once inside the bakery you cannot help but feel owner and baker Veronika Baukema’s love and attention she’s mixed into creating her French, Eastern European and Russian pastries. The space is bright and cozy, and Baukema’s enthusiastic welcome only invites you to collect a treat.

Baukema credits her grandmother Paulina for the inspiration in the delights she makes. “The love of pastry and not necessarily just pastries, for baking and cooking, I got this from my grandma. Not necessary from my mom. My mom didn’t really bake much.” On the wall is a photo of Paulina surrounded with snapshots of pastries. “I love her. I think about her every day,” Baukema said of her grandmother.

A photo of Paulina Vasilevna, Veronika Baukema's grandmother on the bakery wall pays homage to the woman who inspired her baking and cooking.
Credit Stella Fong

“I opened my business because I wanted to give people love,” she shared, “If you don’t love what you do, I don’t think the business will be successful.”

For over two years, Baukema comes in day in and day out from Monday to Friday. Over time, she has learned the rhythm of customers adjusting the days she works and the number of pastries she makes. When she started she closed the first days of the week and opened on Saturdays. These days she bakes about 70 pastries early in the week ramping up to 100 or more on Thursdays and Fridays with a variety of 8 or more kinds. Though her designated closing time is two o’clock in the afternoon, she shutters her door when she sells out.

Baukema moved to the United States with her 12-year-old daughter Anna in 1999. “It was my birthday August 12. I remember we celebrated early in the morning with my friends in Moscow, and I got on a plane. When I got to Salt Lake City, it was still August 12 so it was the longest birthday ever,” she said.

She found her first job at WalMart and started learning English. She supplemented her adult education course at the Lincoln center with reading the dictionary. “At the time we didn’t have cell phones or Google or all those apps so I had a big dictionary and I just pick a word,” she said, “I would memorize it.” Watching television and listening to the radio gave her enough proficiency to pass the driver’s license test. Her job at WalMart provided her the opportunity to practice speaking English.

Veronika's Pastry Shop, offering French, Eastern European, and Russian pastries is located on historic Montana Avenue in Billings.
Credit Stella Fong

After Baukema married her husband, Toby, her in-laws marveled at the pastries she made. “His family would say, where did you get this?” she shared. When admitted to making them, they were surprised. “Everybody can make cinnamon rolls, muffins or cupcakes, but this is a special pastry,” they said of her goods.

Baukema learned her craft from watching YouTube and reading cookbooks to spending many hours practicing. The base of her pastries is puff pastry, a multi-layered dough with butter. When baked the butter melts forming space between the dough.

Puff pastry is made every day. Baukema uses a pasta press to make the layers of dough and butter. The dough is readied in the refrigerator and she shapes the butter into a rectangular block. After softening the butter to just pliable, she places the block in the middle of the dough to run it through her press. She then trims off the excess dough leaving behind dough with butter. With folding and further pressing, up to four times, the pastry is finally ready for the addition of chocolate, almond paste, cream cheese, fruit or custard.

Kouign Amann, a pastry with layers of puff pastry and sugar and a caramelized outside, is a customer favorite.
Credit Stella Fong

When adding the goodies to her pastries, especially when making her Snail Escargot, a pastry with rum soaked raisins and custard rolled into a snail shape she said, “Sometimes, you know, like my grandma taught me, she eye-balled it pretty much. I still kind of have that habit to eyeball it. So sometimes I put a little bit more rum than I should and my customers, they would say ‘hmmmm, today it’s really good.’” She playfully names the pastry ‘escargot’ meaning ‘snail’ in French.

The Kouign Amann, a lacquered sugar and butter pastry from Brittany reigns as the popular seller amongst customers. Four squares of puff pastry after receiving dustings of sugar and folded into a blossom caramelizes to crunchy sweetness when baked in a small tart pan.

The labels below the seven to nearly a dozen varieties Baukema offers up is written in English and Russian. Originally it was her husband’s idea to present pastries in both languages, giving authenticity to her baked goods.

Veronika Baukema prepares Raspberry and Blackberry Danishes as one of the varieties she will be selling on this day.
Credit Stella Fong

For the everyday customers who come into the shop, and especially for those who place custom orders, Baukema said, “I am just happy to be able to be a part of their special days. It makes me happy to know that people really, really enjoy delicious pastries made by hand with my love.”